How to Make the Most Out of Balsamiq Cloud’s Collaboration Features

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The best wireframes come out of several rounds of feedback and iteration. Let’s explore how to do so in Balsamiq Cloud.
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Every organization is different. That’s why we built several ways to collaborate in Balsamiq Cloud.

The critical phase that makes all the difference

Every organization works a little bit differently. But whatever your process might be, there is a phase that, if done well, makes the difference between a design that’s just okay and one that is truly great, PERFECT for solving the problem at hand.

This is the feedback and iteration phase: it starts when you finish your first draft of wireframes, and ends when the wireframes are considered final, and implementation can begin. This phase might take one day, or a month – usually, it’s somewhere in between. 😊

The goal of this process is to make sure that you’ve considered every requirement in your design, by eliciting and integrating feedback from every possible stakeholder.

To keep the process as efficient as possible, a good approach is to involve more and more stakeholders gradually, widening the circle each time as the design matures. You start with including 2 people, then 5, then 9, and finally 20. We could call it the 2-5-9-20 process! 😊   

Let me explain.
 

Start with a peer

No matter how proud you are of the beautiful wireframes you just designed, the fact of the matter is that at this stage they should be considered rough. Very rough. A draft. Don’t take it personally, it’s healthy to consider them ‘crappy’ in this phase. They’re just wireframes after all, designed to be iterated upon. So set aside your pride, and start the process of making them actually good, by getting feedback and integrating it over and over.

I suggest you start by showing them to a single person, who you consider a peer. This could be another Product Designer in your organization, or your Product Manager, or even a friend outside of your company (assuming your company is ok with it). It has to be someone who knows a lot about usability and product design, and enough about your product to understand what the wireframes are about. Someone whose opinion you respect, and who is able to give you honest, constructive feedback, and fairly quickly.

Often you’ll provide this ‘initial feedback’ service to each other.

Because they’re so savvy, I think this is one rare occasion in which “just sending the design over the wall” is appropriate.

In Balsamiq Cloud, you can make them a project member, and give them “View and Comment” rights. If you want them to do more and maybe propose an alternate, you can give them Edit rights.
 

Then copy your project’s URL (from the Sharing settings dialog above, or from your browser’s URL bar) and send it to them – via Slack, email, etc. – saying something like:
 
Hi Mike. I just drafted a set of wireframes for revamping the site’s home page. Could you please give them an initial look for obvious things that could be improved? Here’s the link: https://balsamiq.cloud/s###/p###/ - I need to start circulating this to the core team in a week or so. Thanks so much!

That’s it. This is a quick, very efficient step (it only involves 2 people), and can make a big difference. Often you’ll just get a few small comments and address them quickly, but because your peer is savvy about product design, they might propose a whole other way to solve the problem. One that is much better and that for some reason you didn’t think about using in this case.

In these cases, you might want to schedule a co-designing session with your peer: you both open the same Cloud project, and use Balsamiq Cloud’s real-time collaboration features to riff on the wireframes together. You’ll be able to see what the other person is doing – what wireframe they’re editing, and what they have selected – and chat and comment in real time, all inside Balsamiq Cloud.
 

Having this initial 2-person phase allows you to ‘start over’ if you need to, while maintaining your reputation with the core team intact! 😉

Once you integrate your peer’s feedback, it’s time for the next phase.
 

Kick it off with the core team

Things start to get real here: it’s time to present your wireframes to the main stakeholders of your project:
  • Product Management - they usually drive the project, and know what the customer and business requirements are
  • Support - they’re the voice of the customer
  • Development - they know what’s easy and what’s hard to implement
  • Quality Assurance - they can spot potential security issues, and generally have a good sense of the implications of a new design
Depending on the size of your company, one person might wear multiple of these hats, or they might be a Lead representing a whole team, but generally this phase involves 5 people (including you as the Product Designer).

The goal of this phase is to get the first official round of feedback on your designs.

Sending a link is not appropriate in this phase. This is the time to tell a story. What you want is to go through the wireframes one by one, in the right order, zooming in where needed, explaining both the high-level concepts, and the details when they’re needed – but not too many details, or it will get boring! 😊

We created a template that shows what to include in your presentation. Because you’re part of our inner circle, we’d like to get your feedback on it before we share it more widely. You can preview the project here or download it directly from within Balsamiq - then reply to this email to let us know how you’d improve it!
 

To tell this story, you have two main options: do it synchronously, or asynchronously.
 

“In person” (synchronous) reviews

The first option means scheduling a kick-off meeting with the core team to go over the wireframes.

Important tip: if one of the core team members is not available for a meeting, DO NOT have the meeting! Instead, wait until everyone’s available. Trust me. If you don’t you’ll inevitably have to have another kick-off meeting, which is costly and frustrating.

During the call, you usually share your screen and either flip through the wireframes in the navigator, or, if you linked your screens together, you can go full-screen and click through your rough low-fidelity prototype.

I recommend doing it in the navigator, so you can take notes in the wireframe notes, or add Sticky Note controls to the wireframe themselves, or add comments with callouts.
 

A neat trick before you start presenting is to double click on the 1:1 or zoom to fit icon – whichever works best for your case. This will zoom ALL wireframes at once, pan every screen to the top-left, and remove all selections, which could be distracting during your presentation.

I recommend recording this meeting, so you can go back to it and go over your notes. This allows you to not get too distracted by taking notes during the meeting, too.
 

Async reviews

A more modern, remote-friendly way to do this phase is to do it asynchronously. This involves recording a video of you going through the wireframes just like you would in a kick-off meeting, talking over them and telling the story of this new design.

There are a lot of tools out there to record a screencast - we usually record them locally, edit them with Screenflow, and upload them as private videos on youtube. But you could also use Loom or something like it.

Doing it this way has several benefits:
  • it’s more efficient - you don’t have to find a shared time for the stakeholders to meet
  • you can be more polished - you can edit your video after recording it, for maximum clarity
  • people can skip around the video, re-watching parts that they didn’t understand fully the first time
  • people can watch this at 2x speed if they want (I personally do for most videos these days)

I would make sure the video stays under 10 minutes in length, or it might be too much to digest all at once.

Once you have your video, you can share it with the core team over Slack, email, etc, with a message similar to this:
 
Hi team! The design for XYZ is ready for a first round of feedback. Here’s a video of me walking through it: https://youtube.com/### - I’ve added you all to the Balsamiq Cloud project at https://balsamiq.cloud/s###/p###/ - please add your questions or comments there directly. I’d like to complete this first round by EOD next Friday. Thanks so much!

You can then work on other things while feedback comes in. You might need to prod one or two people, just make sure you hear back from everyone.

In this phase, make sure to reply to questions as quickly as possible, and be available for real-time discussions on specific details that might not be clear. You should also feel free to iterate and make edits to your wireframes along the way – you don’t need to wait for everyone’s feedback first. The goal is to get the core team aligned on a design, so you can show it to more people in the next phases.

One thing you should do is to set the right expectations: even if the core team is now happy with the design, they should know that it shouldn’t be considered final yet – some edits (sometimes big ones!) might come out of the next rounds of feedback.

When everyone on the core team has signed off on the design, it’s time to enlarge the circle some more.
 

Circulate your wireframes with the broader team

Now’s the time to involve the broader team: documentation, localization, legal, sales, the CEO/VP… and any other important internal stakeholder. Usually this is another 4 or 5 people in addition to the core team, bringing the total of this phase to 9 people.

What you could do here is record a new video, and send it to the group for feedback in your usual ways. If your organization uses Trello, you could link the project to a card as described here.

Instead of adding users to the Balsamiq Cloud projects as project members, you could set the “Other Staff Members” setting to “Can View and Comment”.
 

This way they’ll be able to access your project and you won’t have to manage their individual memberships.

They’ll be able to add their comments, @-mentioning people and adding callouts, and the core team will get email notifications for them.
 

If instead your organization still uses “specs”, you have several options, depending on what tool you use to write your specs.

If your tool allows you to embed images from the web, you should use the Image Links feature - this way the images will automatically update as you edit your wireframes in Cloud.
 

Otherwise – say you use Microsoft Word or something similar – you can export your wireframes as images, and include them in your specs that way.
 

Another option, especially useful if you linked your screens together, is to export the project to PDF - your colleagues will be able to click through it in any PDF reader.
 

Whichever way you decide to go about it, make sure you and the core team stay receptive to new ideas. It’s not too late to start over! 😊 You’ve only invested a few days in this design so far - what matters the most is not your ego, but coming up with the best possible design for your end users.

By now the design should feel pretty solid. It’s time for the ultimate test! 😊
 

Test your designs with future users

Do you know that old Steve Blank quote that says “No Business Plan Survives First Contact With A Customer”? 😊

Well, it’s similar for user interfaces. You and the team might think that a design is PERFECT, but until you see a potential customer use it, you don’t really know. The is a real risk that your team might not be able to see the forest for the trees – since you all know the product intimately, you might be making assumptions that don’t hold up to scrutiny by new users.

So at this stage I suggest you include about 10 more people in the review process. These could be external partners, pilot customers, beta users, user research participants, your relatives… anyone who’ll listen! 😉

Balsamiq Cloud offers a few ways to get this kind of feedback:
  • You can “Allow public reviews” on your project – this will make it accessible to anyone who has the link, even if they don’t have a Balsamiq Cloud account. They’ll be able to navigate through it and add comments.
  • You could send them a direct link to a pre-configured full-screen view and watch them trying to use it over screen-sharing.
  • If instead you want to run an unmoderated usability study, you can either use Image Links, or export wireframes to PNGs and import them in your favorite user testing tool.
Once you have collected and incorporated the feedback from a dozen or so people, you can move to the next phase.
 

Congrats! Now what?

At this point you and the team can feel pretty confident in the design. You’ve gone through several rounds of feedback and iteration. The problem is, you never really know how every aspect of your design feels until you start using it “for real”, with real data.

Now you have a choice: build a high-fidelity prototype, or start coding.

Some organizations choose to invest the time in creating a full-blown high-fidelity prototype. There are several tools to do so, and they’re inherently complex since they have to make it look like the prototype is the real thing.

(Let me know if you want me to talk more about the pros and cons of making prototypes – in a future newsletter – it’s a controversial topic, it could get interesting!)

We at Balsamiq think that prototypes are usually a big waste of time. Instead, we split the implementation into two phases: an initial phase, followed by what we call acceptance testing, and a final phase, before release.

Acceptance testing happens as soon as the devs have something that can be played with (on staging, in a branch, or even on their own machines) and it gives you and the team another chance to gather feedback on the design, and iterate. Usually at this point you only have to tweak a few things – which is easy, quick, and cheap to do in code – and move on to finalize the implementation.

If you follow the process above, you will significantly reduce the risk of building the wrong thing, save a lot of coding time, and create better products, which is ultimately what it’s all about. 😊
 

Product news

While we work on bigger features, we did another release with a bunch of small improvements and bug fixes. You can find all the details in the release notes, but the highlights are the ability to select multiple wireframes at once to cut, copy, paste or duplicate them all at once, and a series of cosmetic improvements to make our Mac app work very well on macOS Big Sur.

We’re also improving our automated test coverage, so we can all sleep better at night. 😊

Wireframing Academy news

Some highlights from this past month:
  • You know those quotes that show up when the app is loading? We recently added a bunch of new ones and now have all of them listed on our site. Check out our UX Quotes Library page the next time you need inspiration (we also show a random one on the wireframing academy home page).
  • The course we previewed last month - "How to Design Navigation for Large and Small Screens" by Donna Spencer - is now up on our site. If you missed it last month, check it out here. It’s free and fabulous!
  • We’re hosting our very first webinar - “How to Design Effective Data Tables with Wireframes” with Billy Carlson. Keep an eye on our webinars page for the recording in case you miss it. What would you like us to talk about next? Reply to this email and let us know!

UX/UI links for April

Company news

We continue to work on our company, on many fronts. We had another successful “team quarterly season”: every team meets to reflect on the past quarter and plan the next quarter. Things are going well, we’re excited for Q2 and beyond! 😊

We’re also planning a virtual company retreat for May… it’s too early to get together in person, but we’re getting better and better at having virtual retreats. It’s not quite the same, but we love them!

Help us make Balsamiq Better! We have a new page for our Research Program, which includes info on the donations we do for each session. Check it out, we hope you’ll want to join us!

Right now we need your help to make a list of makers –  woodworkers, potters, machinists, inventors, you name it – that you like on YouTube or on other channels, because we want to sponsor some of them! So please tell us your favorites in this quick survey.

Sponsorships and raffles: we sponsored another dozen events this month, all virtual. Check them out, some still have some tickets available, courtesy of Balsamiq!

Notable recipients of our Free Software Program this month are:
  • Más Oxígeno - This Argentinian non-profit is working on a number of composting, horticulture, and carbon footprint-reduction projects.
  • Dhruv Chavda - This is a great example of individual action. Dhruv and his brother are working on a website to help coordinate food donations. Their mission is to “organize a complete food donation cycle in the city, and globally”.
  • Souper Bowl of Caring - they create resources to show the needs of food charities across the whole United States and to make it easy for people to donate directly to them.

That's it for this month!

I hope this overview of the different ways to collaborate in Balsamiq Cloud was useful to you. Our Desktop and Integration apps have their own additional collaboration features, so check out the docs for those too!

I have a question for you, our inner circle: what collaboration feature should we build next? Now that our Trello integration has shipped, we’re looking at integrating with Slack, Teams, Zapier… are those what you expect? Anything else? Which is more important for you? Reply to this email and let us know, and you will help us shape our roadmap! 😊

See you next month, with more behind-the-scenes news from your friends at Balsamiq!
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team
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